O's options not limited to Garner

August 20, 1999|By John Eisenberg

Let's put it this way: Phil Garner is a capable and available major-league manager, but that doesn't mean he's the only candidate the Orioles should consider when they get around to replacing Ray Miller.

What if Seattle fires Lou Piniella in the coming weeks? What if Anaheim fires Terry Collins? Both are proven managers with higher career winning percentages than Garner.

And where does it say the new manager has to be a veteran "name"? Isn't that the same, Rotisserie-style thinking that has left the Orioles with an overpaid, dysfunctional team languishing in fourth place?

Let's see them take the same step with their new manager that they need to take with their roster. Let's see them envision a future that isn't built solely on records and past accomplishments. Let's see them take a look at, say, Sam Perlozzo, their third base coach since 1996.

Born, raised and still living in Cumberland, Perlozzo, 48, had a .581 winning percentage as a minor-league manager in the '80s. He's smart, sound and highly respected within the game for his instincts. Just because everyone sees a third base coach when they look at him doesn't mean he wouldn't make a fine manager.

That's not to say Garner won't still wind up as the best option. He's a strong leader and sound tactician who has spent his entire career in small-market land, so his record isn't necessarily an accurate gauge of his ability.

Still, it's ludicrous to think the Orioles should limit their search to one guy who managed seven straight losing seasons before getting fired.

Yes, they run the risk of losing Garner if they hesitate, because someone is going to hire him. But it's not as if he's so obviously superior that his hiring is a must. There's a whole, big baseball world out there, full of other possibilities.

Don Baylor, Jim Riggleman, all sorts of names could be in play by October. Hey, given what has happened to the Dodgers this season, maybe Davey Johnson will be out there and the Orioles could right their grievous wrong of two years ago.

OK, OK, we'll stick to reality.

Collins, 50, is a tightly wound disciplinarian who managed five straight teams in Houston and Anaheim to winning records and second-place finishes before the bottom fell out in Anaheim this year. He might boil under the scrutiny he'd receive here, but he's an intense, quality manager whose arrival would amount to a trumpet call in the Orioles' dozing clubhouse.

Yes, he just signed a contract extension several months ago after winning a civil war with his players over clubhouse control, but Disney reportedly is so distraught with what's happened this season that it still might make a change.

Is Garner a measurably better choice than Collins? Debatable. Measurably better than Piniella? Also debatable.

Piniella, 55, won a World Series with the Reds nine years ago, and he's had a good, long run in Seattle that's starting to fizzle, as all runs do. He'd bring passion, knowledge and tactical competence to the job here, although his handling of the Mariners' bullpen over the years has been less than exemplary.

True, Piniella also has a job and a contract good through next season, but rumors about his demise have circled in the industry since shortly after the All-Star break, and who knows what might happen?

The time isn't right for one possible candidate, bench coach Eddie Murray. Like his former teammate, Cal Ripken, he might make a terrific manager one day. But it'd be unfair to him, most of all, to put him in charge when he's had so little experience.

Orioles GM Frank Wren understands that, hopefully, and Wren is the one who should make the managerial hire, provided he's still on the job himself.

It has been years since the Orioles went through the proper chain of command and let their GM hire a manager. Given the resulting disarray, it's time to get back to such basics.

Let the GM hire the manager, period.

It's a critical decision for the franchise, with credibility among the fans now at a low ebb after a string of poor decisions. If anything, after two straight losing seasons, the Orioles need to prove to their constituency that they can do something right.

That means hiring a manager not because of his ability to sell tickets or make a splash, and not because he's somehow linked to the Orioles' past, but because he can run a team with intelligence, consistency and flair. That's all that matters.

Hiring a longtime coach such as Perlozzo would amount to a huge gamble under such conditions, especially given what happened to Phil Regan and Miller, both of whom were longtime pitching coaches before becoming the manager here.

But years of obscure, quality work as a third base coach in Cincinnati, Seattle and Baltimore has earned Perlozzo a broad consensus of respect within the game. He was a hot managerial prospect in the late '80s, and the only thing working against him now is the perception that he's meant to be a third base coach.

Says who?

The Orioles owe him a look, at the very least.

Facing such an important hire, they need to weigh all of the many options that'll exist.

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